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Australian Shepherd vs. Sheltie: Breed Differences & Similarities

Thinking the Sheltie or the Aussie might make the perfect family companion? Find out what you can expect from both breeds before welcoming either into your home.

Kelly Wilson

Last Updated: January 23, 2021 | 9 min read

Australian Shepherd and Shetland Sheepdog

Comparing an Australian Shepherd vs. Shetland Sheepdog for your next canine companion? At first glance, the dogs seem similar. They’re both smart, energetic, herding dogs. And both make incredible companions.

But if you’re thinking of bringing home a new four-legged friend, you need specifics. While both of these breeds can make great family pets, they are also not well suited for every family. Both dogs share some similar behavioral traits, but there’s also some distinct differences between the two breeds.

In this article, we will compare the training requirements, grooming needs, nutrition essentials, and overall temperament of each breed. You’ll also learn about their breed lineage, average health, and appearances. This way, you’ll understand exactly what you can expect when welcoming either dog into your home. Let’s jump in!

Breed Comparison

Australian Shepherd

  • Height 20-23 Inches
  • Weight 50-65 Pounds
  • Temperament Smart, Work-Oriented, Energetic
  • Energy Intense
  • Health Above Average
  • Lifespan 13-15 Years
  • Puppy Prices $1,000 and Up

Shetland Sheepdog

  • Height 13-16 Inches
  • Weight 15-25 Pounds
  • Temperament Playful, Energetic, Loyal
  • Energy Intense
  • Health Average
  • Lifespan 12-13 Years
  • Puppy Prices $1,200 and Up

Breed History

History lessons often lead to yawns, but it’s crucial to know the backstory in the case of a specific dog breed. Different breeds are bred to be skilled in different areas, and for different reasons. By learning what Australian Shepherds and Shetland Sheepdogs were bred to do, you can more easily pick which one is right for your lifestyle.

Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherd Puppy
Contrary to popular belief, Australian Shepherds don’t come from Australia.

Australian Shepherds, also known as Aussies, aren’t really Australian. The name is a bit of a misnomer. In fact, the breed comes from a mountainous area between France and Spain known as the Pyrenees. Here, the indigenous Basque people bred and raised sheep. They relied on Pyrenean Shepherd dogs to help.

But during the 1800s, a group of Basque settlers moved to Australia, lured by the idea of greener pastures for their sheep. They, of course, brought their dogs with them. In Australia, the Pyrenean Shepherd Dogs met Collie dogs (also imported), and they proceeded to interbreed. It wasn’t long before the Basque settlers got the urge to move again, though.

This time, they headed to California with their mixed pups in tow. There, ranchers and cowboys fell in love with the Basque herding dogs. They assumed the Basque immigrants discovered the dogs in Australia, where the Basque people had last settled.

They were half-right. And it really didn’t matter because the name Australian Shepherd stuck. Ranchers utilized the sheep-herding dogs with cattle and other livestock raised along the west coast of North America. Even today, ranchers prize Aussies for their herding skills. They also serve as search and rescue canines, therapy dogs, and service animals.

Shetland Sheepdog

Sable Shetland Sheepdog
Shelties are smaller dogs that have origins from the Rough Collie.

When it comes to sheep herding animals, Shetland Sheepdogs, or Shelties, are on the small side. There’s a reason for this. The Shetland Islands in the UK, where Shelties come from, are rocky, and food supplies are scarce.

At some point, though no one’s sure when, Shetland Island settlers brought full-sized Collie Dogs in from Scotland to help manage their flocks of sheep. The Shetland Islands were a very isolated area. So over time, and due to lack of food, the Collie dogs bred down in size. Smaller dogs were favored because they required fewer resources.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that Shetland Sheepdogs became known in the rest of Britain and then the world. Originally, they were referred to as Shetland Collies, but Collie owners had a problem with that. They pushed The Kennel Club in England to rename the breed.

Shelties, were officially registered as a breed in 1911. Their obedient, happy nature and small build make them a favorite amongst pet owners still today. They also make excellent therapy dogs.

Appearance

Two Small Herding Dogs Outdoors
While both dog breeds share some similarities, their size makes it easy to tell them apart.

Shetland Sheepdogs and Australian Shepherds are relatively easy to tell apart. The size difference alone is pretty distinct. Shelties can be as small as 15 lbs, while a small Australian Shepherd weighs at least 40 lbs.

Both breeds have rough coats. The Sheltie has long hair, while the Aussie has a coat that’s medium in length.

Merle, or mottled coats, are common in both breeds as well. Shades of sable, blue, and red are often seen mixed with their typical white markings. That said, either breed can have solid coloring with white markings too. Both breeds also tend to appear alert and energetic all the time, which many owners adore.

That means that if you’re choosing between the two breeds on appearance alone, size is probably a significant determining factor. A small dog requires less food and space than a larger dog, and the weight and height difference between Aussies and Shelties is huge.

Temperament

Two Small Fluffy Dogs Outdoors
Both dogs can make excellent family companions if properly exercised.

If you’re looking for a playful and energetic pup, either the Australian Shepherd or the Sheltie are good picks. Both breeds are known for their intelligent and inquisitive nature. As working dogs, they want to solve problems. They also want to run and herd, just like their ancestors were trained to do.

Shelties, especially, are known for being playful. But they’re also intuitive. When their family is upset or their owner is sad, they tend to reflect the overall mood and demand cuddles instead of play.

Shelties are also known for vocalization. These little dogs pack a full-size bark, and they like to let you know they’re there. That, and their steadfast loyalty, makes them perfect guard dogs, despite their small stature.

Australian Shepherds, meanwhile, are known for their smarts. These dogs can solve problems, and they do best when they have a job. Aussies do well as search and rescue animals but will loyally guard a family, too.

Less active owners don’t do well with Aussies who need room to run. When bored, they’re known for acting out and often seem to enjoy tricking their owners. Many love this mischievous streak, but it’s not for everyone.

Exercise

Two Fluffy Thick Coated Dogs Running in Snow
You’ll need at least 60 minutes per day reserved for outdoor exercise with both dog breeds.

Learning how much exercise a particular dog breed requires is crucial when picking out a new pet. You want to make sure you can devote enough time and energy to your four-legged friend.

Aussies need plenty of exercise. They enjoy running for upwards of two hours a day. On top of that, their brain needs near-constant stimulation. Left alone and bored, they become destructive and unruly.

Shetland Sheepdogs are a little more forgiving when it comes to lack of room or less active owners. They still enjoy running around, and daily jogs or long walks are a must. Expect to exercise your Sheltie around 60 minutes each day at a minimum.

But overall, the Sheltie is very adaptable. They do well in cities and smaller homes, where there may be little to no yard space to roam. As long as they get out of the house regularly, they do well in smaller spaces.

For both breeds, we recommend daily walks. Neither breed is known for being necessarily a strong puller, so we recommend using a harness during leash training. Aussies should be equipped with a medium-sized harness, and Shelties will take a size small in most cases.

Training

Two Merle Colored Dogs Outside
Both breeds are intelligent and highly trainable.

Some dog breeds are easier to train than others. Regardless of whether you pick a Shetland Sheepdog or an Australian Shepherd for your next companion, training time is a must-have.

Aussies, as mentioned, are highly intelligent. That means training the basics is pretty easy. They’ll learn to sit, stay, and shake incredibly fast. What’s harder is teaching these super-smart canines boundaries. It can be difficult to get them to stop hopping the fence or not eat the pie off the counter when your back is turned.

Shelties are well known for their obedience skills. They learn to obey quickly and excel at following commands. They’re also agility champions. It’s no wonder that these small, fast, herding animals can run an agility course with ease. Entering agility competitions is a fun way to bond with your Sheltie while keeping them in shape.

Unfortunately, Shetland Sheepdogs have a love for vocalization. Teaching them to stop barking is challenging and can be a real issue if you live in a high-density area. Neighbors might not appreciate the constant barks!

We recommend crate training both breeds. Crate training can be an excellent way to give your pup a place to relax after a long play session. It’s also an excellent method to make sure your living room furniture stays intact when you leave your home for a few hours.

Aussies function best in a medium-sized dog crate. A large may be overkill, so don’t go any bigger than 42 inches in length. Shelties will do best inside a medium or small-sized crate. We recommend around 30 inches in length for the Sheltie.

Health

Two Small Happy Healthy Dogs
Both breeds are generally healthy with very few genetic health conditions.

Like any pure breed, Shetland Sheepdogs and Australian Shepherds are both relatively healthy. There are, however, a few common maladies to be aware of when considering adopting either breed.

Shelties commonly experience hip dysplasia, thyroid disease, and eye diseases. They also experience Sheltie skin syndrome or dermatomyositis, essentially inflammation of the skin and sometimes blood vessels and muscles.

On top of that, they are prone to epilepsy and von Willebrand’s disease, which is a blood clotting disorder. All of that sounds like a lot, but reputable breeders screen for all of it. They won’t breed a Sheltie that has a known disease in their genes.

Aussies also deal with hip dysplasia and epilepsy. They commonly deal with cataracts and certain forms of cancer as well. Aussies are also prone to ear issues. Regular cleaning of their ears is vital for good health.

Nutrition

Two Very Hungry Dogs Waiting on Food
Regardless of breed, you’ll want to make sure your pup is eating a high-quality kibble.

Good nutrition is vital to ensure your pup lives a long and happy life. In general, both dog breeds do well with any vet-approved diet. How much they need, though, varies.

Shetland Sheepdogs consume 1-2 cups of dry kibble per day, on average. However, they may not be able to handle regular dry food. Their narrow muzzle makes it hard to chew and swallow big kibble pieces. This can make eating a challenge, especially as puppies. During puppyhood, you’ll need a small breed puppy kibble. It may be necessary to continue small breed dog food through adulthood.

The Australian Shepherd consumes somewhere around 2-3 cups of kibble per day, and maybe more if they’re working dogs. That adds up to about 1400 calories, as much as many smaller adult humans!

Kibble can be expensive, and how much you’ll need to purchase is an important consideration when choosing a new companion. Beyond that, both breeds have beautiful coats. Finding dog food rich in Vitamin E and omega fatty acids will ensure their mane stays shiny and healthy.

Grooming

Shaggy Aussie and Sheltie Dogs Outdoors
When it comes to grooming, both the Aussie and Sheltie are high maintenance.

Grooming takes time and money, and the grooming needs of different breeds can vary greatly. It’s vital to consider how much grooming and shedding you’re willing to take on as a dog owner.

Shetland Sheepdogs shed a lot, which is understandable given their long coats. They need weekly brushing at a minimum. During shedding seasons, Shetland sheepdogs should be brushed a few times a week, if not daily. The area behind their ears is also prone to matting, and owners must pay special attention to it.

Many owners consider shaving Shetland Sheepdogs to avoid the tedious grooming process. That’s a bad idea, though. Shaving Shelties can lead to sunburns or intolerance to cold.

Aussies shed too but only shed heavily twice a year. At that time, an under-rake brush can keep the shedding under some semblance of control. Otherwise, they only need weekly brushing and occasional baths.

Both breeds need their nails trimmed regularly, and with Aussies, it’s essential to monitor ear health as well. Keeping their ears clear of wax buildup can help prevent infections.

Puppy Prices

Aussie and Sheltie Puppies
Expect to pay upwards of $1,000 for both the Aussie and the Sheltie as puppies.

All purebred puppies are expensive, but that’s because reputable breeders screen for common health issues, take care of early vaccinations, and ensure puppies are well taken care of from the get-go.

In general, Shetland Sheepdogs cost a little more than Australian Shepherds, but it depends on several factors. Champion bloodlines, certain merle coats, and other variations can add a lot to the price. Expect to pay around $1,000 and up for an Aussie puppy, whereas Shelties will cost around $1,200 and up.

Adopting from a reputable breeder is the most vital part of bringing home a purebred pup, even if it costs a little more. Puppy mills and the like could land you with a dog that has a common health issue, like hip dysplasia, which ends up costing far more down the road and lessens your companion’s quality of life.

Final Thoughts

Both these breeds are energetic, intelligent, herding dogs that love to have a job to do and a family to protect. They can both make excellent family companions provided they are paired with an owner that provides them proper mental stimulation and daily outdoor exercise.

The smaller and more adaptable Shetland Sheepdog, or Sheltie, does well in a variety of environments. City dwellers and country enthusiasts alike will enjoy caring for these dogs.

That said, the quick intellect behind the Australian Shepherd’s often piercing blue eyes is hard to beat. They need space and lots of running, but they’re also fiercely loyal companions to either one owner or an entire family.

Deciding which one is right for you involves taking your lifestyle into account. But as long as you can give them what they need, you’re likely to be rewarded with an irreplaceable furry friend.

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